The Saint Bernard dog.

Uncanny Abilities & Sense of Direction.

Saint Bernard picture, St Bernard picture

Breed History

During the first two centuries AD, Roman invaders crossed the high and dangerous mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy bringing with them huge powerfully built Asian Molosser dogs. These large dogs, Mastiff like, were bred to local Swiss valley dogs, a mixture of native specimens, Senna hounds, Bloodhounds, and maybe the Great Dane. The offspring were used on the farms in the valleys for guarding, herding and drafting chores. In 1050 AD the Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon established his legendary Hospice high in the Swiss Alps as a shelter for travelers crossing the dangerous Jural Mountains. Documents verify that those valley dogs were first bred at this Hospice in the mid 17th century. Isolation at the Hospice necessitated close in-breeding and line-breeding and the resultant dogs were huge, strong, short coated and possessed a mysterious, almost supernatural sense of direction and the ability of finding avalanche victims buried deeply in the snow. Over the centuries, Hospice dogs have been credited with saving more than 2000 lives. The most famous was a dog named Barry, and he is credited with saving 40 people during the period 1800 to 1810. The Hospice kennels in 1856 suffered doubly, from an avalanche disaster and a distemper epidemic, but the surviving stock was out-crossed to various breeds and the line was saved from extinction.
Dog: 27½ in. (70 cm) minimum at shoulder.
Bitch: 25½ in. (65 cm) minimum at shoulder.
Weight:  120 - 200 lb. (54.5 - 90.9 kg).
Living space:  Large house.
Activity Level:  Moderate.
Exercise Needs:  Moderate.
Playfulness:  Moderately high.
Affection:  Very affectionate.
Shedding:  A lot.
Grooming:   3 times per week.
Trainability:  Average.
Bonds:  To the whole family.
With children:  Excellent.
With Other Dogs:  Quite good.
With Other Pets:  Very good.
With strangers:  Quite good.
Protection:  Rather low.
Watchdog:  Good.
Function:  Companion
Other Names:  Alpine Mastiff.
Life Expectancy: 8 - 10 years.
Quite often, a longer coated puppy was born in a litter, but the monks at the Hospice knew from experience that snow would ball up in their feet rendering them unsuitable for rescue work and so these longhaired pups were given away to people living in the valleys. Over the many decades these longer coated dogs were bred together which stabilized the longhaired variety. Both varieties continued to be bred in the valleys during the last half of the 1800s and the breed spread across Europe and to Great Britain in 1887. The selected title for the breed took quite some time in becoming established, but finally, in 1880, the designation, St. Bernard was recognized as the official name. In 1887, at an International Congress in Zurich, an international standard for the St. Bernard was created. The St. Bernard Club of America was formed in 1888, adopting that international standard. The Stud Book of the Canadian Kennel Club notes 249 registrations for St. Bernards in 1888 – 1889.


  The immense head of the St. Bernard is its trademark, trustworthy and intelligent looking. The smooth coated Saint Bernard has a short coat, very dense, lying smooth, but not rough to the touch. The longhaired type resembles the shorthaired type, except that the hair is of medium length, natural to slightly wavy, but not disheveled. This breed sheds quite a lot, especially in the shedding season, which will call for more than the usual once a week brushing.


  The likeable, sociable Saint Bernard is a laid-back, composed dog, very even-tempered and tolerant of children, but perhaps not as playful as some children might like. A Saint Bernard bonds to, and is faithful to the whole family not just to one person. They are very affectionate and expect, and thrive on, attention in return. They tolerate other pets well and are reasonably friendly towards other dogs.

Caring for a puppy

Anyone thinking of buying a St. Bernard puppy, should have lots of living space and room to exercise it daily. Proper diet is very important, crucial in fact, for raising a Saint Bernard puppy because of the huge, all-too-fast growing bones, and joints. A new puppy owner should follow the breeder's advice on feeding a young puppy. An overweight puppy, or a puppy that grows too fast, will undoubtedly develop hip problems, or hip dysplasia. It should be noted, that this breed has large flews, large droopy flaps of skin on the upper muzzle, and because of this, they drool quite a bit, and therefore perhaps not suitable for a house-proud owner.

St Bernard Health Issues:

GSP Major concerns:   CHD, (This is the acronym for Canine Hip Dysplasia); Gastric Torsion, (A twisting of the stomach, after gastric distention, occurs. This is a life threatening problem. Immediate Veterinarian help is required!); Entropion, (This is the turning inward, of all, or part of an eyelid, such that the eyelashes come into contact with the corneal, and conjunctival surfaces of the eye. It causes corneal irritation, and potentially more severe damage to the affected eyes.); Ectropion, , (This is a defect of conformation, in which there is a sagging, or rolling-out, (eversion) of the eyelids. This results in abnormal exposure of the eye, which often leads to irritation.); Elbow Dysplasia, (Elbow Dysplasia occurs when the cartilage or the structure around the joint develops abnormally. These abnormalities affect the dog’s gait, which in turn, make the problems worse.); Osteosacoma, ( This is malignant bone cancer. Unfortunately, it is all too common in large and giant breeds.)
Minor concerns:   OCD, (Osteochondritis dissecans, commonly known as OCD, is a disease of the cartilage that can affect various joints in a dog.) Diabetes; (is caused by a deficiency of the hormone insulin which is produced in the islet cells of the pancreas, and is normally responsible for controlling glucose levels in the blood. Cardiomyopathy, (Dilated cardiomyopathy means that the heart muscle, especially the thick muscle wall of the left ventricle, becomes much thinner than normal. The pressure of the blood inside the heart then allows this thinned wall to stretch, resulting in a much larger left ventricular chamber.); CVI, Cervical Vertebral Instability or simply, "Wobbler’s syndrome") ; Hot Spots, (Hot Spots are localized skin infections in dogs, that are usually caused by a bacterium.)
Occasionally seen:   Distichiasis, ( This is an eye disease in dogs in which eyelashes grow on the edges of the eyelids and these abnormal eyelids cause irritations to the eye itself, resulting in corneal ulcers, and conjunctivitis

GSP Suggested Tests:

All breeding stock should be tested, prior to breeding, for the following: Hips, Elbows, Eyes, and Cardiac.